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Monday, May 20, 2013

Johnny Storm gives us a black Human Torch--but I'm afraid he's only going to reinforce racial stereotypes

David Willis recently posted this comic, and it was funny. Folks have taken Marvel superhero Johnny Storm (Human Torch) and apparently they're going to make him black. Some people are apparently complaining, because they hate black people.

Detail, cover of Fantastic Four #542[date missing]
Art by Adi Granov, found at wikipedia
I'd be more worried about Johnny Storm doing a disservice to the black comics community at large. He's loud, obnoxious, reckless, and a sleeping-around-cheater--basically every stereotype white people throw at black men to justify racism. While Storm's newly-black sister Sue might be a voice of reason, it's super-easy to stereotype the "mystical black woman" and she might well fit that stereotype, depending on the writing. Better idea: why can't they make Reed Richards black? Oh, is it because the smart scientist isn't allowed to be black? They had to choose the noisy obnoxious loud guy to be black instead? Geez, that's great.

These comic artists cannot get race right. When you pallete-swap an already-established character you're almost always going to fall into some kind of stereotyping--the authors are too old and too white to make a "black version" of an established character without egregious anti-black racism involved in some way or another. In comics, it's better to make all-new characters with fresh storylines. Static Shock, for example, was created based on a black Spiderman, but he became his own character with his own powers, and it was always interesting because he's his own guy. The black Spiderman in Ultimate comics isn't a black Peter Parker--he's his whole new own character and he rocks. See, there should have been more unique black characters to begin with. We don't need the same characters booted over and over. Put them to rest, let the stories end, and get all-new characters so that creativity can flourish and race stereotypes aren't permeated. Creating a "black batman" or a "black superman" is just a way for old white men to point out to black people, "look, we never made any black characters for you--so you can re-use on of our old ones. We're too lazy to actually make good, unique characters for you, we'll just reboot some we've already used to death."

I want new superheroes that actually speak to all races and subcultures, not re-sale, re-used, re-washed pallette-swapped stereotype opportunities. What about some decent Asian superheroes, or mixed race superheroes? If you just keep painting Superman or some other guy all different colors, these different characters don't actually get to interact. Where's the fun in that? The black audience is worth more than reboots and used characters. The black audience is worth fresh characters that span a whole gamut--not just one or two that fit certain stereotypes--with new powers, new costumes, and all kinds of new awesome.


  1. Dear Petre Pan,
    I agree with you. Why not have the super heroes mean something to all races and creeds? Why not have people who are kind to all races and creeds? If you need a bad guy or guys, why not spread them around the races.

    It's tricky accepting ourselves and others as we are now.

    Celebrate you and your view of the world
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

    1. Thanks for commenting! I hope you're doing well. = )

  2. Hey there. Just stopping by to thank you for commenting on my blog during Monday's Blitz. You all made it a great day for me! I'm glad you enjoyed Collins' poem. Ted Kooser is really great as well. :)

    Have a happy weekend!

  3. As a counterpoint: relationships between white men and black women are rarely depicted in prominent pop culture media. While you seem bothered that Reed Richards isn't black, haven't you considered the ground that can be broken by an unusual interracial relationship? With it will come the reasonable assertion that black women can be attractive to white men for more than simply culturally-assumed sexual charisma.

    1. I think that's a legitimate point you make! However, I think you could easily accomplish that interracial relationship with Reed black and Sue white. Again, they're making the wild hot-head black and the quiet scientist remains white.

      The bigger issue is WHY we do things, also. I'm the product of an interracial relationship, so my eyebrow goes up when you call it unusual. Yet I'm not going to get offended, since that's not your purpose. Same goes for how we make our characters in fiction. Our purpose matters. Is it just a marketing gimmick, or are we genuinely interested in our black/Asian/whatever superhero? Is this art or is this politics? Everything has a mix of both. I'd like to see a black superhero who isn't black just to fit a stereotype or appeal to a crowd, but who breaks stereotypes and is above all a fleshed-out individual. Johnny Storm is really hard to flesh out. He's always been kind of a humorous hothead. He could be like the black sidekick now. How many of those do we have in pop culture already?

      Here's another thing to think about: black-black relationships are just as valid and beautiful as interracial relationships, but we see in popular film MORE interracial relationships than black love. Is the white audience uncomfortable with not being the center of a romance? Why is it always about a white protag or white romantic interest? When did the last "You've Got Mail"-size awesome romance hit the market with two black protags? Answer: almost never. Romance movies are almost never about black people except in reference to white people. And that's not real life.

      SO while interracial relationships rock, I think we sometimes get carried away making them a holy grail, at the expense of giving black movie stars lead roles. When was the last time someone wrote a romance role, played by a black person, that wasn't played by a black person BECAUSE he/she was black, but because he/she was an awesome romantic character? We try to put black people into the "let's talk about discrimination" box rather than just treating everyone like human beings.

      Haha, long-winded answer. But you make an excellent point.